The sound of booming Italian banter and the popping of one delightful bottle after another was the soundtrack to Alta Cucina’s pleasantly low-key sparkling wine tasting last night.
The “Epicurean Society,” devoted to the worship of all delicacies Italian, is an odd little spot on 38th street, just off Park Avenue. The small, rather narrow event space, with its apparently inactive espresso bar in the front (but really, what authentic Italian venue could be without espresso?), is a strange cross between a gallery and a specialty gourmet shop. Which, it should be noted, is not inconsistent with its “epicurean” philosophy of food and wine as an art form.
Thus I was thoroughly impressed, though not surprised, with the luscious spread of Italian munchies to pair with the four featured sparkling wines. Though the wines were the undisputed stars of the evening, the simple but freshly imported and expertly prepared bites were constantly replenished by attentive caterers. From savory bruschetta, to classic and festive Panettone, the authentic quality proved that Alta Cucina unquestionably deserves its Epicurean title.
The four wines featured were sampled in a suggested order, designed by the Sommelier on hand, to best experience the unique character of each one. The first was a very light and dry prosecco, Valdobbiadene DOC Lovre, and along with the second, I Borboni Aspirinio Brut, a vibrant and refreshing wine, paired well with the cheeses and bruschetta. The third was a deeper, throatier Spumante, L’Azienda Agricola Colutta Ribolla Gialla Brut (try saying that after a few glasses!), that was a favorite among my party. It surprised us as quite an exceptional, fuller-bodied sparkling wine and went blissfully with the fruit-studded Panettone. The quartet finished with an Asti Spumante Tosti DOCG, a very sweet dessert wine that is excellent to drink alone, in order to savor its wonderful aromatics and distinctly grape flavor.
Given the small space and the freely-flowing wine, the event could’ve easily been a madhouse. However the vibe was relaxed and jovial, and the small, welcoming crowd quite distinctly Italian–complete with impeccable hair and shined shoes. Their thick accents and “society” familiarity, added to the stylish, laid back, Milano feel. So much so that a friend who was with me, who holidays with his family in Italy, said he felt like he was already home.
The only disappointment was the lack of any formal presentation. Though under normal circumstances I might not be as inclined to want to sit through a lecture before being allowed to imbibe heartily, I would have liked a bit more guidance through the tasting. For example, I would’ve liked to know, rather than guess, which specific wines were meant to be paired with specific food items. Though I am sure the Sommelier would’ve been more than happy to discuss the details with me, a bar–no matter how laid back the crowd–always has the push of thirsty revelers and empty glasses to fill.
Overall, if Epicurean Societies got stars, I would give Alta Cucina an easy four, and am looking forward to whatever promotional event they might have next. Though I might not be that much more informed about Italian sparkling wine, my palate is thoroughly whetted for more.
– Ava Fedorov
Alta Cucina Epicurean Center
22 E 38th Street
between Madison Ave. & Park Ave.